Council continues hearing Vine Hill-Pine Meadow appeal tonight

Martinez City Hall

MARTINEZ, Calif. – Martinez City Council will pick up tonight where it left off last week when it meets to rule on an appeal of an application for residential development on the former Pine Meadow golf course.

The hearing was continued from the May 30 meeting, at which Mayor Rob Schroder and Councilmembers Debbie McKillop and Noralea Gipner indicated they could not agree, and Vice Mayor Lara DeLaney and Mark Ross were absent.

At least three votes were required to deny the appeal. Gipner said she favored residential development on the nearly 27-acre site, but she wanted homes suitable for older residents and said she didn’t think DeNova Homes’ proposal for 92 homes. The other two indicated they would deny the appeal.

Senior Assistant Attorney Veronica Nebb recommended the Council wait until all members were present.

During the meeting, when the Council appeared split, she called for a break so she could research both the city’s and the state’s government codes as well as recent changes in state housing accountability legislation.

She told the Council California’s Legislature has become more aggressive in its intent to assure adequate housing, leading to what she has called “erosion of local control.”

The Martinez Planning Commission expressed similar concerns about the loss of local residential planning autonomy last month at the same meeting it approved the applicant’s documents.

In her report to the Council, Community and Economic Development Director Christina Ratcliffe wrote that city staff still recommended denying the appeal filed by Tim Platt and adopting the applicant’s final mitigated negative declaration and the mitigation monitoring and reporting program for the Vine Hill Residential Project.

She also has recommended denying the appeal and approving the vesting tentative map that would subdivide the acreage into 98 lots.

The Council heard arguments from both Dana Tsubota, attorney for DeNova Homes, and from Platt, who also read a letter from Stuart M. Flashman, attorney for both Platt and Friends of Pine Meadow, the citizens group that has long opposed development of the golf course.

The Pine Meadow property has been owned by the Coward family for decades, during which it built the golf course. In its latter years, the course proved unprofitable, and the family sought to sell the land.

The city – residents as well as the Council – rejected spending city funds on a fair price for the land, so the family, led by Christine Dean, solicited offers from area developers and chose DeNova Homes’ offer.

When opponents succeeded in requiring a public referendum on a previous DeNova Homes design, the Council overturned its initial approval of that design, and the developer went back to the drawing board.

Meanwhile the Coward family and the developer accused Friends of Pine Meadow of appropriating the name of the golf course, of misleading the public by use of the name and of interfering with the property sale. Those lawsuits were rejected by the courts.

Last year, the family and the developer also disputed with city staff about whether the land designation had become open space or park land. The family and the developer argued the land has been designated all along as residential use, with a home’s minimum lot size 7,500 square feet, and needed no General Plan amendment or zoning change as part of the development application.

Through Tsubota and individually, family members argued they had been paying taxes all along at residential zoning rates, not open-space rates. They also contended they never were told the city had revised its evaluation of the property’s intended use.

Although the city staff disagreed and said writing on maps indicated the land was designated for recreation and not homes, Tsubota convinced the Council last year that the city’s own records did not sufficiently back that contention. Only DeLaney sided with the staff report.

Platt and Friends of Pine Meadow have filed suit, contending the Council erred in that vote, and that the property never was designated for residential development. Instead, they assert, the city’s General Plan had indicated the golf course was intended for recreational, not residential, use. Should the land be used for parkland, it would help Martinez get close to reaching its goals of parkland acreage based on city population, Platt has said.

The appellants also have said the development isn’t compatible with the neighborhood, that the golf course is home to wildlife, that chemicals used on the golf course could be harmful, that 29 protected trees shouldn’’t be removed, even if they would be replaced at a rate of three for each taken out, that the development doesn’t address drainage or water quality, among several other points.

A staff report has answered Platt’s objections, affirming that required mitigation make each issue or impact raised “less than significant.” Since last week, the staff has modified its recommended conditions for approval, in part responding to former planner Corey Simon’s comments during public hearings.

He wanted to assure that landscaping and retention walls wouldn’t resemble certain other developments on Morello Avenue that sometimes look neglected.

Revisions of conditions of approval would require the homeowners association to enforce maintenance obligations and would be responsible for the maintenance of any retention wall on common areas. Private lot retaining walls would be maintained by individual homeowners, with homeowner covenants, conditions and restrictions spelling out maintenance obligations and enforcement.

Also on tonight’s agenda are public hearings on the levying assessments for eight municipal landscaping and lighting districts.

The meeting will start at 7 p.m. today in the Council Chamber of Martinez City Hall, 525 Henrietta St.

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